The Confederate Rose Story

If I told you there was a super cool plant in the South with legends of a Rebel soldier’s dying breath laced in its white, pink & red flowers, would that perk your ears?

The Confederate Rose or hibiscus mutablis is actually not a rose but a hardy hibiscus brought to the south as a Chinese import.  First appearing in English gardens in the 1600’s, it is said to have gained favor in the South due to its ease of cultivation during the hard financial times after the Civil War.  The Confederate Rose enjoys a lovely legend and should be considered a staple in every southern yard. 

The Legend Of The Confederate Rose
Before the Civil War the Confederate Rose was pure white. During the Civil War, a young soldier defending the South’s honor was fatally wounded in battle. He fell upon the rose and lay dying. During the course of the two days he took to die, he bled more and more on the flower, till at last the flowers were covered with his blood. When he died, the flowers died with him. Thereafter, the Confederate Rose opens white, and over the course of the two days the bloom lasts, they turn gradually from white to pink to almost red, when the flower finally falls from the bush.  The rose grew on the lawn of the house in Abbeville, SC where the first decision to secede from the Union was formulated prior to the shots at Ft. Sumter, and where Jefferson Davis signed the final paperwork officially ending the war while on his escape from fallen Richmond, VA.  It is also said that a woman in Alabama gave returning Civil War soldiers a Confederate Rose to show her appreciation.

The Confederate Rose, Hibiscus mutablis, is a member of the hibiscus family which includes both the tropical hibiscus and the hardier Rose of Sharon. It is a fast growing perennial considered to be a large bush or a small multi-stemmed tree. The plant roots easily from cuttings, has few pests and grows vigorously during the summer. Once established it is drought resistant. The blooms appear in late summer into the fall and it seems as though these remarkable flowers change color almost overnight.

The Confederate Rose likes full sun, well-drained , slightly acid soil. It grows as a multi-branched shrub or a small deciduous tree with low branches which can get up to 12 feet tall and wide so allow room for expansion.  It is hardy in zone 8-10 and will die back with the first hard freeze but return in spring getting larger each year.

Water Confederate rose generously, thoroughly soaking the plant’s root zone, and then wait a few days before watering again. The plant requires plenty of water, especially during warm summer weather, and dry soil may cause the leaves to turn yellow. However, consistently soggy soil may cause diseases such as mildew and rot.
Feed the plant every other week, using a high-potassium, water-soluble fertilizer with a ratio such as 12-4-18. Apply the fertilizer according to the label’s specifications. Always water deeply immediately after applying fertilizer.
Remove spent blooms as soon as they fade to prevent the Confederate rose from going to seed too early.
• Mulch the shrub in autumn to moderate soil temperature and moisture during the winter months. Use 2 to 4 inches of a mulch such as pine needles, dry leaves or bark. Rake the mulch away from the trunk, as the mulch may attract pests that damage the wood.
• Prune in November or December. Prune weak growth and damaged or diseased wood. Remove branches that are crossing, crowding or rubbing on other branches.
• Protect the plant from whiteflies, which often infests Confederate rose, causing the leaves to turn yellow and drop off. Treat blackflies, along with the sooty molds that often accompanies the pests, with a horticultural oil spray. Water the plants before applying the oil spray so the oil evaporates quickly. Avoid applying the oil spray on hot, sunny days.

Cultivating Is Easy
Confederate Rose roots easily from cuttings, especially in the spring. Plant pencil-sized cuttings in a mixture of 1 part peat moss and 3 parts sand. Keep the container warm and moist. Roots usually appear in four to five weeks. Wait a few more weeks for the roots to mature and then move the new plant into a larger container or plant it in its permanent outdoor home.